Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Dallas, Part 2: Eclipse


4/8/24 Viewing the eclipse in Grand Prairie, TX

Who knew that a few clouds could cause so much tension?

As a Seattle native, I consider overcast skies my natural habitat and certainly not a cause for consternation. In the days leading up to April 8, 2024, however, the weather was a primary topic in my family’s ongoing chat thread.

When we got together in Oregon for the 2017 eclipse, clear summer skies were the forecast, and we enjoyed a perfectly unobscured viewing. In Texas, though, conditions were iffy.

The eclipse was to begin in the early afternoon. Over breakfast, we yay’d when it was sunny; when clouds reappeared, we boo’d. All morning, the sun dipped in and out of clouds over Grand Prairie, where my family had found an ideal house to rent for the long weekend. In addition to having exactly the number of beds we needed, it was also in the center of the path of totality, ensuring maximum viewing time – nearly four minutes – of the event’s climactic phase. Ensured, of course, as long as the sun was unobscured.

Donning our ISO-approved safety glasses (made of cardboard and in two styles) and matching T-shirts, we gathered on the back lawn. My brother had staked out an ideal location to set up his high-end camera gear. I came prepared with a white Prismacolor pencil and an Uglybook containing dark blue paper, which I thought would be the most efficient way to document the moon’s path.

At 12:52 p.m., I made my first sketch of the partial occlusion. Clouds continued to drift past sporadically; when the coverage was thick, the sun could not be seen at all.

As totality inched closer, the tension and anticipation increased. By 1:30 p.m., it had become perceptibly cooler and darker.

At 1:40 p.m., the clouds parted. Birds we had heard earlier stopped singing, and an eerie darkness, very different from night, fell. The totality phase had begun! Finally able to view the sun without protection, we screamed and cheered, awed by the spectacular experience for nearly four minutes – completely unmarred by clouds.

At 1:44 p.m., the “diamond ring” appeared (a moment sought by photographers), signaling the end of totality. Scrambling to put on our protective glasses again, we sighed collectively and applauded.

Although I would have been disappointed if clouds had kept us from seeing the moon’s alignment with the sun, that long weekend would not have been less special. For me, reuniting with my family is the part I cherish.

(I held off on publishing this post until after the slightly shorter version appeared in On the Spot, Gabi Campanario's zine of sketch reportage. You can read that version here. I'm thrilled to be published there again!)

Kaila napped through the whole eclipse, but I wanted to include a photo of her, too.

The "diamond ring" signals that the total eclipse phase had begun. (photo by Frank Koyama)

Monday, April 15, 2024

Pink and Not

4/12/24 Evergreen Washelli cemetery, north Seattle

An errand nearby gave me an opportunity to take a morning walk through Evergreen Washelli cemetery. I was hoping to find some pink trees to sketch as I did last year, but the cherries were now long past their blossoms. This old cherry tree (above) had only a few petals remaining, but its elegant shape still deserved to be sketched.

The next day I walked through the ‘hood to see how the Kwanzans were doing. This street is one I watch each year for this small cluster of trees, now at peak.

4/13/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Years ago, I made most sketches with a wide variety of inks, colored pencils, watercolors and markers. Then I gradually became a watercolor pencil purist, a period that lasted several years. Now I seem to be swinging back in the mixed-media direction again. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Product Review: Omiowl White Acrylic Marker


Omiowl white acrylic paint markers

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had been given a nameless white acrylic marker that was new to me. Having tried more than my share of white pens and markers, none of which are ideal, I was naturally skeptical and even downright jaded. Although I liked what I saw in Allan’s sketch, I knew that the pen was likely on its best behavior while it was new. As soon as I got complacent, it could blob, clog, explode or who knows what. I decided I would wait a good while before reviewing it.

The pen, by the way, does have a name; the box says it’s Omiowl. On Amazon, it’s listed with Zosxi as the brand name, but that name appears nowhere on the packaging. I guess branding isn’t important, since no name appears on the pen itself, either. Regardless, it’s a dual-tip marker with a brush tip on one end and a dot-making bullet point on the other.

Brush tip

Bullet tip

The package indicates that it can write on concrete, leather, metal, canvas, stone, wood, glass, fabric, plastic and paper. That’s an impressive list of surfaces (but I’ll leave it to someone else to test its effectiveness on anything besides paper, since I’m unlikely to use it on any other surface).

Good opacity but with a relatively wide tip.

Taking the marker with me to Dallas,
I used it in several sketches, very happy with both its opacity and instant-on operation – no shaking, rattling or priming needed. Just pull the cap off, and it’s ready.

Good coverage on colored papers.

Detail from the last sketch I made with the pen before it died.

Fair warning, but I didn't have the package at the time.

Somewhere during my sketch around the cul de sac where we were staying, I lost the cap to the brush end. At least, I assume that’s where it happened, because I didn’t notice it was gone until a couple of hours later when I pulled the pen out capless. I emptied my bag, hoping it had fallen off somewhere inside, but it was gone. What startled me was that the brush tip was completely, solidly dried – solid as a piece of hard plastic. The package (which I didn’t have at the time) warns: “Cover the cap immediately after using or it will dry quickly.” No kidding.

Since the opposite end was still capped, I kept the pen in my bag, assuming that the bullet tip would still be useable. A couple of hours later, I opened the bullet end to use, and it had completely dried, too. Apparently exposing one end of the pen is enough to dry out the entire contents of acrylic paint and the second tip! I tossed it.

Even while I was still in Texas, I had already ordered a bulk package of eight Omiowl white acrylic markers. I was going to resist a bulk buy until further testing, but since my tester was gone, it had to happen. At a little more than a buck each, the pack is a good value (unless it turns out to be a dud).

For now, I can only say that the marker performs well, and I’ll update this review in the future if I discover its dark side. Impressively opaque and well-behaved, its only downside is that the brush tip is fairly hefty, even when held vertically, so it can’t make fine lines the way the Posca 0.7 “pin type” or Sakura Gelly Roll can. Still, with the solid coverage it can make, that’s an acceptable tradeoff.

If you decide to try it yourself, whatever you do, replace the cap immediately and never lose it!

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Plenty of Pink Left


4/11/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

On my return flight from Dallas, I wondered what the flowering trees would look like at home. I saw that Seattle had gotten rain and wind while I was gone – would there be any pink left for me to sketch?

Happily, I found that there was still plenty: The Kwanzan cherry trees are just hitting their stride. I found this pair on my walk – both rather inelegantly pruned with awkward stumps on one side.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Dallas, Part 1: Family Reunion

4/5/24 Light rail commuters

Something about a total solar eclipse seems to bring the Koyama family together. That’s what happened on Aug. 21, 2017, in Oregon, and last week it happened again, this time in Texas. Ten of us from Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, and College Park, Maryland, met in Dallas for the major astronomical event of the year: a total solar eclipse that would be visible through much of North America.

4/5/24 Waiting at Sea-Tac airport

I had not seen a couple of family members since before the pandemic, so this gathering was especially precious to me. We even got matching T-shirts commemorating the eclipse, including one for our newest family member, my one-and-a-half-year-old grand-niece, Kaila. She has already grown so much since I last saw her in August, and it was fun to spend time with her. I didn’t capture her likeness as well as I did in the drawings I’ve done from photos, but I finally got to sketch her from life – twice!

4/6/24 The view from the back patio of the house we rented in Grand Prairie.

I’ll get to the actual eclipse in a future post. Today I’m showing all the airport sketches, scenes from Grand Prairie, the Dallas suburb where we rented an Airbnb, and from Dallas itself. Details are in the captions.

4/6/24 A few snippets from the front of our rented house in a typical suburban cul de sac.

4/6/24 The family carnivores insisted that it was not possible to visit Texas without eating authentic barbecue, so we got takeout from the highly acclaimed Hurtado in nearby Arlington. 

4/6/24 One evening my nephew-in-law Mark taught everyone to play the Texas Hold 'Em version of poker that he favors. I'm not big on card games, so I opted to sketch everyone instead. I messed up Seila's face so badly that I covered him up with poker chips and re-drew him at lower right (much better).

4/7/24 One evening we went into the city to hang out in Klyde Warren Park, which had nice water features for kids to splash in. 

4/7/24 A few buildings seen from Klyde Warren Park, my beer at Doc B's restaurant, and Kaila eating.

4/7/24 Mark made blueberry pancakes for all of us one morning. Getting the shape of his shaved head right was apparently beyond me! Great-tailed grackles, a bird previously unfamiliar to me, were the most commonly sighted bird in Grand Prairie. Larger than crows and with elegantly long tails, they have a variety of calls ID'd by the Merlin app. 

4/8/24 I caught Kaila coloring, which meant she was 
somewhat stationery for a few seconds.

4/8/24 A small lizard on a window screen

4/9/24 Waiting at Dallas-Ft. Worth

4/9/24 Waiting in Phoenix. It's the first airport where I've seen an "animal relief station." No one was inside, neither human nor canine, so I could sketch easily. The hydrant was a whimsical touch.

4/7/24 This is my favorite sketch of the trip.

Thursday, April 11, 2024



3/21/24 Waiting for a friend at Crown Hill Metro Market 

1/17/24 Waiting outside Toast Mi, Green Lake

Before I get too far behind, I’d better catch up on my sketchwaiting from the past few months. As usual, there’s nothing special here; these snippets simply reflect a few minutes (or quite a few minutes) that would otherwise have gone to waste. In most cases, I knew approximately how much time I’d have to wait, so I could adjust my speed or level of detail accordingly. If it’s a “planned” wait (arriving early with the intention of sketching), like the spread at the top of the post, does it really count as sketchwaiting? I say it does because I’m still not in full control of when I have to stop.

1/17/24 Doctor's waiting room

1/19/24 Jet City Pizza pizza maker with great curls

3/9/24 Capitol Hill

3/22/24 Northgate business park parking lot

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Color Does the Heavy Lifting


2/11/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood
There’s an oft-quoted art adage that goes something like this: Values do the work, but color gets the credit. Looking back at these walk-taking sketches from the past couple of months, however, I’m struck by the simplicity of high-contrasting hues adding interest to otherwise ordinary compositions and mundane subject matter. The dynamic combo of Uglybooks and Posca paint markers makes me lazy: They do most of the heavy lifting to make these sketches sparkle; all I have to do is draw.

2/17/24 Roosevelt neighborhood

2/18/24 Line out the door at Macrina Bakery,
Maple Leaf neighborhood

2/22/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

3/4/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

3/4/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood

3/23/24 Green Lake neighborhood

3/23/24 Green Lake neighborhood

3/27/24 For this one, I took the term "sketchwalk" literally: I walked
slowly behind this pair as I sketched. Northgate.

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